Haydn, Die Schöpfung

For this year’s 200th anniversary of the Society of Friends of Music, extra concerts have made their way into the program.  Tonight, the Society’s house amateur orchestra (the Orchesterverein) put on Haydn’s Creation.  This is a work which, despite its huge dimensions, makes for a better match for this group than some of the pieces I have heard them perform in the past.  Indeed, they play very well for amateurs, but can be overmatched by the likes of Bruckner.  Despite some rough edges, they played a spectacular Haydn.  This was the best I have ever heard them.

They were helped by the house chorus (yes, the Singverein) in full voice, and three outstanding soloists: Cornelia Horak (soprano), Alexander Kaimbacher (tenor), and Wolfgang Babrnkl (bass), three Austrian singers with dramatic and pleasant voices, the two men coming out of the Staatsoper’s ensemble.  Robert Zelzer took his customary place on the podium, and knew exactly what to do to create the world with Haydn’s music.

Haydn produced this oratorio very much inspired by Händel, whose music he had fallen for during his spell in London.  The text was, in fact, originally written for – but not ultimately set by – Händel, so Haydn saw himself as picking up his predecessor’s work.  But to write a setting of the creation of the world required innovation in tone painting, of the sort that may have become routine in the 19th century but was still not done in 1798.  The listener would do well to hear Haydn’s work in that context: for his time, Haydn was an innovator, and took music to another level in this work.  Tonight’s performance understood the idiom.

The work has three parts: the first covers the first four days of creation, the second covers the fifth and sixth days, and the third has music for Adam and Eve to sing in paradise.  The third part comes across as more of a set piece, a product of 18th-century convention.  It contains none of the drama of the first two parts (it does not include the snake or the expulsion, just Adam and Eve crooning on how wonderful paradise is), and provides little opportunity for the tone color that made this work so innovative for its day.  Zelzer chose to have the first two parts run uninterrupted and then performed the third part after the intermission, which made for a let down.  After creating the heaven and earth in six days during the first two parts, Haydn should certainly have rested after the sixth day.

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